UFC 242: Dan Hardy predicts Khabib Nurmagomedov in for a tough night against Dustin Poirier
The former UFC fighter says added pressure of Russian being the fan favourite in Abu Dhabi could play into challenger's hands
Khabib Nurmagomedov will have to deal with an added pressure when he faces Dustin Poirier in their title unification fight at UFC 242 in what former UFC welterweight and current analyst Dan Hardy expects to be a closer-run bout than any the undefeated Russian has encountered.
Lightweight champion Nurmagomedov heads the bill for Saturday’s fight night at The Arena on Yas Island, where he is sure to have the majority of support at the 13,000 sold-out venue. A devout Muslim, Nurmagomedov is both one of the sport’s most popular fighters and one of the region’s best-liked athletes.
He will put his unblemished, 27-0 record on the line against Poirier, the current interim champion who is unbeaten in his past six bouts. In all, the American's professional CV stands at 25-5-1.
Asked how Nurmagomedov will deal with the pressure on Saturday night of being the face of mixed martial arts in the region, Hardy said: “It’s a good question, because the dynamic of this event is rather different to any other of his fights. Usually he has good support wherever he goes, but it will be very, very different this time around.
“Normally he has a fairly small, well-trusted team, always going into an enemy territory to fight someone who’s more embraced by the fans in that region, particularly with all the fights he’s had in the US.
“This is much more like a home game for him. It will be nice to be able to perform in front of these fans, but at the same time there’s a pressure to that. The expectations of Khabib are so big: he’s undefeated; you talk to some of Khabib’s fans and they just think he’s perfect, he can’t put a foot wrong.
“He has mastered mixed martial arts across the board and there’s a pressure. Look, everyone has holes in their game; as martial artists and as humans we are vulnerable. And I think Khabib, if he’s honest with himself, he’ll know that.
“He will know that he’s got a test in front of him in Poirier in someone that can lose two, three, four rounds even, and still catch you in the fifth and knock you out. Someone who’s got good wrestling - black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu I believe as well - so Khabib’s not unrealistic in the test he’s got in front of him.
“But at the same time he has to carry that air of invincibility because that’s what his fans expect of him, that’s what we’ve seen through his career. There will be more pressure on his shoulders this week. He’ll just not let out that he is feeling any if he is.”
Hardy, who stopped competing in 2012 with a 25-10 record, said that, if Poirier is to stand any chance of inflicting a first defeat on Nurmagomedov, he will have to survive a “horrendously difficult” first two rounds. However, Hardy believes a number of factors work in Poirier’s favour, including the apparent easiness making weight compared to his rival, the hot and humid conditions expected, and the role of underdog.
“There’s a bravado that comes with that, that I think will pay off in this fight,” Hardy said. “It will be difficult to discourage him and, even if he loses a round of two, Poirier’s got the ability to adapt. He’s done that throughout his career, he’s got losses on his record.
“Losses on your record when you’re going up against an undefeated fighter are very, very healthy. Because they tell you you can regroup and put it back together. And with the punching power that he has, we know he can get the finish at any point in the fight.”
Pushed to pick a winner, Hardy said: “The smart money is Khabib by decision. Taking all of the other factors away: the difference in struggle with the weight cut, the environment that they’re fighting in, the pressure of the event.
“But a lot of factors play into Dustin’s favour. I think it’ll be a much closer fight than we’ve seen before with Khabib.”
Updated: September 6, 2019 10:37 AM